Turnaround fortunes the highlight of Perth round
As was expected, the Perth round of Supercars was all about tyre management and pit strategies and as it turned out that led to some surprise results, albeit with a bit of luck thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, none of that luck found its way into the GRM garages.
The abrasive surface of the Barbagallo track ripped into the super soft tyres and both practice and qualifying was somewhat of a lottery with limited opportunities to clock a best time.
The good news is that by the time Supercars next visits in 2019, the track will have been re-surfaced, so its characteristics will change and all the teams will start with a clean sheet.
The trial qualifying system that debuted in Tasmania once again proved to be popular, especially with the fans who appreciated the added action and drama on-track. The three-part format will now be analysed to see if it will be extended to other rounds. It certainly seems to suit the supersprint rounds, but remains to be seen if it will see be introduced at Bathurst and other rounds where the top ten shootouts have proven to be popular.
The two practice sessions on Friday were a disappointment for the Wilson Security Racing GRM team, although Garth in the #33 Commodore did give the team some early hope in the first session with 11th fastest time. However, after that neither Garth nor James in the #34 Commodore could get the performance they were looking for and by Friday afternoon they were at the wrong end of the times. Getting the tyres to work and the balance of the cars right appeared to be the main challenge.
Qualifying was equally disappointing and Garth found himself 20th on the grid for Saturday’s race, while James was 22nd. Scott McLaughlin continued his outstanding form from the previous round and took yet another pole.
Saturday’s race was hard going for both of the PAYCE and Paynter Dixon supported cars and they were not able to make much of an impression on the field, with Garth finishing one spot up from his grid position, while James had to settle for no gain in finishing 22nd. Scott McLaughlin continued his winning streak to come home the winner.
The GRM drivers and engineers were not giving up and spent Saturday night dissecting the data, with the hope their fortunes would change on Sunday.
Sunday was essentially the same format as Saturday, with all teams looking to set a good practice time to get a free pass into the second qualifying session and thereby conserving tyres. To add to the challenge, the track conditions had changed from the previous day with some scattered showers falling, although not while the Supercars were on track.
To the surprise of many, some of the big names missed the cut, but the GRM team were chuffed with James’ times in practice across all three sectors that placed him 10th on the timesheets.
Garth had no such fortune and on his fast lap when he gambled on his tyres in anticipation of a good time and had to abort when he was baulked by a slower car and found himself last on the timesheets.
Unfortunately, James was not able to repeat his good practice time in the second qualifying time and was relegated down the order to be 16th on the grid for the 83 lap race.
The grid line-up for race two was a surprise to everyone, not because the triple eight cars of Van Gisbergen and Whincup were on the front row, but because Scott McLaughlin was way back in an unaccustomed 19th spot and Lowndes joining Garth at the very rear of the field.
The race itself was one that will stay in people’s memories for a long time, mainly for the charge by McLaughlin through the field to make it to the front and take the chequered flag for his second win of the weekend, making it four on the trot. Nearly as impressive was Lowndes third place from the rear of the field after dodging the melee that occurred towards the back, especially in the opening laps.
James in the #34 Commodore was never going to recover from two incidents that left the front of his car re-arranged on the opening lap and then a locked front brake that took him off into the sand trap, which then triggered a Safety Car.
Initially, it looked like Garth had collided with James and had contributed to his off-track beaching, but closer examination of various footages showed that did not happen and Garth was in the clear with the team.
The appearance of the Safety Car sent most of the field into the pits and for some who were forced to double stack, it meant a loss of position. Some teams were able to get away with three stops with good tyre management, while those that had to make the extra stop paid the price.
In a race that saw five incidents investigated by the stewards it was remarkable that all were seen as ’racing’ incidents and no penalties were dished out.
Congratulations to Scotty on what he agreed was probably his best drive ever to come home first and another good result for Erebus with Reynolds second – although he very nearly came unstuck on the final corner.
The Wilson Security Racing GRM team were understandably disappointed with the weekend, but Garry was the first to acknowledge their hard work and positive outlook.
The next round is at Winton on 18-20 May with the Touring Car Masters round three also on the program.
Garth Tander 14th (down three spots)
James Golding 25th (no change)
Wilson Security Racing GRM 8th (no change)
All three PAYCE sponsored drivers, Chris Pither, Mason Barbera and Macauley Jones arrived at the track confident of a good round, based on their recent performances.
Chris in particular had a great result in Tasmania, topping a practice session and the two qualifying sessions and going on to take three podiums, including a win in race two.
Chris got off to a good start in practice one, clocking 4th fastest, with Macauley close in times for 5th fastest, while Mason and his team concentrated on setup. Mason was later the best performer of the trio in practice two with 6th fastest. Both Chris and Macauley were down the order in 14th and 15th respectively.
On Saturday, the two qualifying sessions of 10 minutes were held back-to-back and both Chris and Mason made it into the top 10 in each session with an 8th and a 4th, and a 6th and 8th respectively. Macauley was not able to get clean runs and had to settle for a 16th and a 12th. Chris was particularly unlucky in the first qualifier when he looked set to take pole being the fastest in the first two sectors on his best lap before a red flag halted his great run.
Mason’s times were very impressive and the best to date this season, giving a hint to his equally impressive drives to come in the three races. If he had not been baulked in the second qualifier he would have started near the front of the field, rather than 8th.
While over the three races in the round, the PAYCE drivers were not able to achieve a podium, they created a record by finishing in the top 10 in all three races.
Chris finished 7th, 4th and 7th to maintain his second position in the championship. Out of the nine races to date, he has not finished further back than 7th and has had four podiums.
Mason had by far his best round yet with the GRM team, with a personal best 5th, 8th and 10th placing across the weekend. That performance pushed him up the championship ladder four spots to 19th.
A fantastic performance by Mason, who is just in his second year in the series and on a fast learning curve. His record this season is looking extremely healthy, with five top 10 finishes from nine starts, including two DNFs not entirely his making.
Macauley had his share of bad luck but still managed a 9th, 7th and a 5th to stay in 4th place in the championship. He raced hard all weekend but did not appear the have the pace of earlier rounds.
Once again, demonstrating how competitive this series is, there were three different winners – Rullo, Dumbrell and Fiore – over the weekend. It’s a tough series and equally as hard as Supercars to come through the field if you don’t qualify well.
After an extended break, the next Super2 round is at Townsville on 6-6 July when they join Supercars and Touring Car Masters on the program.
Chris Pither 2nd (no change)
Macauley Jones 4th (no change)
Mason Barbers 19th (up four spots)
Contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058